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A synagogue built in the late 19th century offers a message to reduce prejudice
in northwest corner of Cape May County and a bit off the beaten path, a synagogue built in the late 19th century houses The Sam Azeez Museum of Woodbine Heritage.
Woodbine was developed as an agricultural colony under the auspices of the Baron de Hirch Fund as a refuge for Russian Jewish families fleeing persecution in their homeland where they were not allowed to own land. Within a few years the Jewish families had built the Brotherhood Synagogue, brick by brick, and it was consecrated in 1896.
Over the years as the Jewish community dwindled, the synagogue fell into disrepair and was on the verge of being demolished or sold – until Michael Azeez stepped forward. Michael spent several years restoring the interior, exterior and grounds of the building, closely as possible to its original form. In 2003 he established the Sam Azeez Museum of Woodbine Heritage, named to honor the memory of his father who had grown up in the Woodbine area. As a young boy Sam worked in his family’s bakery and by the time he was 12, he was operating his own bicycle repair shop, launching an entrepreneurial career that would include many ventures including a pioneering role in the cellular phone industry.
The sanctuary has been restored and is used for services, including Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, and during High Holidays. Until 1979 women had to sit upstairs, where they literally dug in their heels to the point that the marks on the
floor are still visible when they refused to be ostracized any longer.
The lower level, Brotherhood Hall, houses the museum’s permanent and temporary exhibitions, including a community sculpture, the Collective Memory Wall, where residents have contributed personal memories of Woodbine.
The museum contains a rich collection of historic photos, artifacts and documents detailing the story of the town’s settlers who had been denied the opportunity to pursue agriculture in their native lands. The story of Woodbine is told through a series of panels, taking you from its incarnation when the only inhabitants were 92 Jews, to today, with only a handful of Jews among its 1,900 or so residents. The panels in the basement of what was called Woodbine Brotherhood Synagogue tell that part of the story.
The museum is a teaching center focusing on perpetuating the history of the wave of Russian Jewish immigration to the area in the late 19th century and working for the reduction of prejudice. Since its inception, the museum has worked with Stockton University and the New Jersey Holocaust Commission in education, teacher training, the collection of oral histories and other activities. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The other part is told through the Holocaust education program the museum offers in conjunction with Stockton University. The Sara & Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center, a joint venture between the university and the local Jewish Federation, is considered among the finest Holocaust teaching centers in the world. 610 Washington Ave.; 609-626- 3831; G

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